Dog the Bounty Hunter and the NFL’s Gregg Williams (the NFL’s Bounty Hunter)
When most people think about a bounty hunter, they might imagine the life and times of Duane "Dog" Chapman and his long-running A&E Network series, or the bounty hunters of the “wild west.” Those bounty hunters have nothing whatsoever to do with former New Orleans Saints and current St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Williams has become in just matter of days, America’s most notorious bounty hunter for all the wrong reasons. Williams, a National Football League coach, has been linked to charges that while working as an assistant coach with the Saints, he orchestrated a “bounty” program in violation of NFL rules during the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons.
According to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, the NFL has asked Williams be at the NFL’s New York offices Monday to meet with NFL security officials Jeff Miller and Joe Hummel concerning the alleged violations of the league's bounty rules.
It is likely that NFL Executive Vice President and General Counsel Jeff Pash will also be involved in the discussions. Reports suggest Williams violated the NFL’s bounty rule throughout the 22 years he has worked as an NFL coach.
“The payments here are particularly troubling because they involved not just payments for performance, but also for injuring opposing players,” Commissioner Goodell said. “The bounty rule promotes two key elements of NFL football: player safety and competitive integrity.
“It is our responsibility to protect player safety and the integrity of our game, and this type of conduct will not be tolerated. We have made significant progress in changing the culture with respect to player safety and we are not going to relent. We have more work to do and we will do it.”
News the Saints were in violation of the NFL’s bounty rules broke on Friday. On Saturday, the Washington Post reported that while Williams worked with the Redskins, the Redskins violated the NFL’s bounty rule. Sunday, the Buffalo News reported the Bills had an active bounty reward program again linked to Williams’s time with the Bills.
The NFL has a longstanding rule prohibiting “Non-Contract Bonuses.” Non-contract bonuses violate both the NFL Constitution and By-Laws and the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Clubs are advised every year of this rule in a memo from the commissioner. Citing Sections 9.1(C)(8), and 9.3(F) and (G) of the Constitution and By-Laws, the memo for the 2011 season stated:
“No bonus or award may directly or indirectly be offered, promised, announced, or paid to a player for his or his team’s performance against a particular team or opposing player or a particular group thereof. No bonuses or awards may be offered or paid for on field misconduct (for example, personal fouls to or injuries inflicted on opposing players).”
“Our investigation began in early 2010 when allegations were first made that Saints players had targeted opposing players, including Kurt Warner of the Cardinals and Brett Favre of the Vikings,” Commissioner Goodell said. “Our security department interviewed numerous players and other individuals. At the time, those interviewed denied that any such program existed and the player that made the allegation retracted his earlier assertions. As a result, the allegations could not be proven. We recently received significant and credible new information and the investigation was re-opened during the latter part of the 2011 season.”
The NFL is facing moral, ethical and legal challenges. In the midst of multiple lawsuits relating to player safety from more than 300 retired players, the perception of an out-of-control National Football League and players trying to deliberately hurt other players isn’t the news the NFL needs reported.
SI.com’s Michael McCann believes Williams and the players who violated the NFL’s bounty rule could face criminal charges. According to McCann, “The Saints ‘pay for injury’ model could lead to battery and conspiracy charges. Players may face tax evasion charges if they didn't report their bounty payments. The team would have cause to fire those involved without any financial obligations.”
McCann raised several additional issues that could haunt the NFL. As McCann reported: “Fans who paid a good deal of money to attend Saints’ games, be they home or away, may reason that they were the victims of false advertising: they paid to watch competitive NFL football, not hired hit men who tried to injure other human beings. Louisiana has several laws for remedying false advertising and deceptive trade practices.”
Williams began his NFL career as a member of the Houston Oilers staff in 1990, working with the Oilers staying with the organization when they became the Tennessee Titans through the 2000 season. After 11 years as an NFL assistant coach, Williams was the Buffalo Bills head coach from 2001 to 2003. After being fired by the Bills after the 2003 season, Williams again became an NFL assistant coach this time with the Washington Redskins from 2004 through 2007. In 2008, Williams worked with the Jacksonville Jaguars. From 2009 through 2011, he was the New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator, the position he currently holds with the St. Louis Rams.
Williams apologized for the Saints' bounty program in a statement released Friday.
"It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it," Williams said. "Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have stopped it. I take full responsibility for my role. I am truly sorry."
Given that Williams may have broken the NFL’s bounty rule throughout his NFL coaching career the apology seems hollow. The New York Times profiled Williams as a coach who preached violence and rewarded it for years.
“It was a thing where veterans and guys on defense always put up money for things that might change the game — hard hits, interceptions, sacks,” Josh Evans, who played for Williams in 1995, said by phone Saturday according to the New York Times. “I have never known Gregg to say, ‘Try to hurt somebody.’ Guys were rewarded for making a big play or a hard hit. He probably knew. I don’t think he went against it.
“It’s just different times now because back in the day this stuff was part of football and nobody ever went out to try to end a guy’s career, because we all had families. But I would be lying if I said you didn’t want to knock a guy’s butt off.”
Football is a violent sport, a sport that has often been compared to war. The reports if true suggest that Williams coaching philosophy violated the NFL’s bounty rule throughout his 22 years NFL coaching career.
“I have no idea what was going on in Washington,” Tony Dungy, now an NBC analyst, told the New York Times. “I do know in Tennessee they definitely had bounties. We had players that went there in free agency; we had some of their players who came to us as free agents who told us. You can draw your own conclusions from that.”
Former safety, Coy Wire, told The Buffalo News after he joined the Bills in 2002, that an environment of "malicious intent" was in place (Williams was the Bills head coach).
"That's real," Wire said by phone from Atlanta. "That happened in Buffalo.
"There were rewards. There never was a point where cash was handed out in front of the team. But surely, you were going to be rewarded. When somebody made a big hit that hurt an opponent, it was commended and encouraged."
The Washington Post reported that while Williams was with the Redskins between 2004 and 2007, thousands of dollars were paid to members of the Redskins for knocking opponents out of games.
“You got compensated more for a kill shot than you did other hits,” said one former Redskins player, who spoke on condition of anonymity in the Washington Post report.
“It was a motivational tool, just like anything you would try to do as a coach to get the most out of players,” the former coach said. “The only thing was, money was involved.”
If Williams violated the bounty rule as reported, throughout his 22 years as an NFL coach, the NFL has no choice but to ban Gregg Williams from coaching an NFL team. Williams turned his players into mercenaries.
The goal of every professional athlete is to do their best and win; work hard, train hard, and play hard. Athletes must play with integrity. There is no honor in rewarding athletes who attempt to injure their opponents; there is only shame and embarrassment.
For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom